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Laying the Foundations - A chat with the NCF President

December 17, 2021

In a few hours, the AGM of the Nigeria Cricket Federation will be held at the MKO Abiola Stadium in Abuja. The question on the lips of many is "What can we expect from this new board?" 

We at TheMiddleStump have been wondering too. That is until we got the opportunity to take a peek into the thoughts of the man steering the affairs of the game in our country, Mr Uyi Akpata. It will be too much selfishness if we don't share some of those thoughts with you. 

We met him at the University of Lagos Oval where he was watching the opening game of the Lagos Cricket League and talked extensively about pretty much everything from player development to corporate governance.

This is part 1

Journey So far?

With the new board only a few months into their tenure, Uyi was quick to point out the true state of play.

In his words…

"From a practical point of view, while you could say that most members of the board were on the previous board, the truth remains that we haven't even had any period to settle down and do things. The under 19 team was in Rwanda and we had to deal with the preparation for the senior team (for the ICC WT20 Qualifiers)

Frankly, we are only now starting to settle down to start our real innings in January (2022), after Board Meetings and the full-council AGM scheduled for 17th and 18th of December it has been a time for stabilizing."

Next one year…

Then we asked him what the NCF’s plans for the next 12 months are and, you could see the man’s face light up in excitement as he acknowledged the work that was being done by multiple stakeholders to keep the current activities going on simultaneously over the nation. Edo league in its third week, the Port Harcourt league gaining traction, and the CCC League in Lagos which boasts of being the biggest and best cricket league along the corridor of West Africa. 

In his words…

"Cricket is going to be one of the most prominent sports in Nigeria, people are already talking about it but as I said, it will be the most organized sport in Nigeria. You're going to see a series of activities taking place in a structured manner. I'm really, really excited here that the CCC (Club Cricket Committee) league is coming up and as we speak also, Edo (Edo Cricket League), I think, is in the third week or so. So in terms of actual active participation, that is very, very important. So we're not going to see a situation where most of our players are not in active play for two years and you're going straight into competition. Let's look at it under the five key strategic imperatives."

To answer our first question, Uyi was glad to share with us the 5 Key Strategies - the main pillars upon which the structure of this administration's vision will be built. 

  • Grassroots Development
  • Technical Competence
  • Facilities and Equipment
  • Finance and Corporate Governance
  • Sustained Partnerships

We then dove deeper into the first 3

  1. Grassroots Development

A simple but elaborate plan is already underway to reach a whopping 250,000 thousand people with cricket in the coming year; half of which will be women. Regional Development Officers already have their work cut out for them if you ask us.

In his words…

"The first strategy is development - grassroots development. That's the first in our pillar of our five strategies where we say up to 250,000 people each year in terms of involvement and participation, we are going to hit that number and I'm going to be happy when we hit that number. There's a structure that has been put in place in terms of how we will go to schools, how we capture all the data. Each zone or region has their own targets. We have the developmental approaches in place; and to me, it is key that half of those numbers be female. So to me, that is a key agenda."

  1. Facilities and Equipment

A few years ago, turf pitches were only seen and appreciated on TV and the few times our players go abroad for international competitions. At the time of this report, however, there are two turf pitches in Edo State, one already in use at Unilag, another one being readied for January...with a view to expand to Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, and Ilorin; each with two practice nets for company. With these, we are halfway through to building high-performance centers in all the regions of the country. 

In his words…

"Then you look at our next key pillar - facilities and equipment. So now we've shown that this can happen. TBS will be ready for play the first week in January. Liberty stadium and Abuja are the pitches that we're going to develop next year.

In each place, we will be putting two practice nets and that will be the platform for building high-performance centers."

  1. Technical Competence

Though our report card from the latest trip by the men's senior team had lots of red pens in it, there were many points of encouragement from the boys' performance. It appears we are building for the future. With our average age about seven years younger than those of the opposition sides, the new perspective should give us all hope. A technical committee is being built around the head coach Asanka, that will help address some of the batting issues that seem to have been plaguing us for a while. 

In his words...

"The third one is in the area of our technical competence. In Uganda and Rwanda, the results were bad to put it plainly, but back to your article, which presented a balanced report, you needed to be there to see that the gap (between us and the likes of Uganda and Kenya) was not that much. Our average age was almost seven years younger than other teams. So when you have a Rilwan Gafar, and a Prosper Useni, and other key members of the team between 19 and 22, you just need to create the right platform for them. You need to create the right platform for them to just thrive. So I see us improving in rankings, but more importantly, better play in terms of technical play. We are putting together a strong technical committee that will work closely with the head coach. We're going to seek formal approval of both committees at the AGM next week."

That is not even the exciting part of this particular pillar. The exciting part is that we will start to prepare like winning nations prepare. A number of invitationals and competitions have been lined up for the coming year. Many of which will test our players against their international counterparts. 

In his words…

"Well, believe it or not, the female team is closest to meeting our objective of saying we want to be one of the top teams in Africa, apart from South Africa that is there. Zimbabwe and the others are here with us. So it's just for us to continue to progress. So, in doing this, we want to have a series of competitions. So by March, April, we're going to have a six to eight team invitation for female African teams. And we are looking at November for the male teams. We are going to bring our regional brothers around because again, it gives everybody practice. So competitions are gonna take place. I mean, active competitions, which improve the quality of players. So people are going to be busy. Maybe in December also, we're going to have a Champion's League for league winners around the country. We will bring everybody together for two weekends of real fun in Lagos.

  1. Sustained Partnerships

So all these things come together, but how can it work? Do we have the resources to pull them off?

In his words

“So that's where I going to the fourth pillar, very important sustained partnerships in terms of our involvement with government, our involvement with sponsors, our involvement with people in the media and communications team because when we begin to be profiled in the right manner, that's when we attract sponsors”

“We are talking to one or two people who we believe will come on board, but want them to come on board the big way. Last week we were talking about a large beverage company here trying to sponsor the league here and it was really difficult, but on my way here today they have splashed the whole place in terms of the billboard, and I'm sure they're not going to spend anything less than 500 million this week for activities they're going to be doing in entertainment with all the events over this Christmas period, whereas in a place like India is reverse. So, again, it depends on how you balance it since they are into entertainment, we will try and mix sports and entertainment”

It gets even more interesting as Mr. Akpata goes on to speak to us extensively about plans for player welfare, corporate governance, and transparency, how current and former cricketers will be included in working committees to support the board, and his leadership style.

We will bring these and more including excerpts from the board meeting to you in Part 2 of this series. For now, have a good Friday, and please make plans to watch live cricket at any of the various leagues across the country. 



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